3 Easy Things to Do if You Want to Help with Family Separation but Don’t Know How

If you want to help and you have no idea what to do–that’s okay, and it’s completely normal. It means your heart is working, and you’re trying to translate it to your voice and your hands.

When I arrived at church last Sunday, the weight of all the border issues, pushed into our faces and all at once, threatened to pull all of us down. What to do? What needs to be done? Slowly, together, we built a list of ideas that felt manageable, important, incremental. I  volunteered to work on a list of resources and actions. As I built the list, along with others, several things became clear: my church wasn’t the only one struggling with how to respond. And our response was stunted by years of being systematically under-educated about immigration issues.

The list had to be short—choice paralysis is real; manageable—despair paralysis is real; and informative—ignorance can be paralysis, too.

The result is a list that I hope is to be just long enough to offer options and just short enough to avoid overwhelming.  It’s divided into three categories: Act, Donate, Educate. You may find it helpful to choose one action from each category. Or, if your resources are limited in one area, choose three in the category that feels most accessible.


  • Call: Five Calls is an app and online tool that identifies government representatives and officials to call based on categories you select (ie., “Abolish ICE” or “Demand Family Reunification”). In general, calling your Senators and Representative to end family (or all) detention, defund ICE, or demand a clean DREAM act are all good calls (save their office number in your contacts so it’s easier to call).
  • Sign: MoveOn has a petition to governors asking them not to send their state’s National Guard to the southern border, as Trump requested. Kids in Need of Defense/Change.org are petitioning Department of Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen to end family separation.
  • Rally: Increase the pressure on the Administration by joining the mass mobilization on June 30. MoveOn is maintaining a list of actions across the country. If you can’t join this weekend, look for mass actions in the coming weeks that target ICE buildings, detention centers, or immigration courts.
  • Share: #KeepFamiliesTogether broke into the top ten trending Twitter hashtags just an hour before Trump announced his intent to sign an executive order ending family separation. If you’re skeptical of “hashtag activism,” instead make a point to share one article about immigration facts and realities every week—if you have people in your network with different views, look for compassionate and moderate articles to share. Don’t underestimate the power of information-sharing.
  • Donate: Look to the donate section for ideas about financial giving. If you don’t have financial resources, consider organizing a donation drive with your church, sports team, or co-workers. Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants keeps an updated wishlist—consider a Quran or English/Spanish Bible drive. Mennonite Central Committee is always accepting standardized hygiene kits that are sent to newly arrived migrant families at the border and around the world.


There are many, many great organizations supporting refugees and undocumented immigrants. Here are just a few that approach the problems from different angles.

  • Advocacy and Abolishing Detention: Freedom For Immigrants advocates for eliminating the detention prison system, monitors human rights abuses in detentions, and organizes volunteers to visit detainees.
  • Foster Care and Family Reunification: Bethany Christian Services (Michigan) is one of the organizations placing undocumented youth in foster care and reuniting families for the duration of their legal process. Bethany works in a conservative Christian framework, so if you’re pro-choice or upset that Bethany prohibits LGBTQ couples from fostering/adopting, you may want skip this one and look at an organization like Samaritas. Or jump down to the Legal Representation section.
  • Advocacy: Mennonite Central Committee Washingtonin addition to the direct-support work MCC does along the border, MCC offices in Washington, Ottawa, and at the United Nations amplify peace church voices to advocate for immigration reform.
  • Hospitality and Family Reunification: Casa de Paz (Colorado) offers temporary housing, meals, visits, and transportation to men and women in Colorado’s detention centers. They are working with government officials and others to connect detainees with their children and fundraise for additional expenses detained families have incurred. The Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (Chicago) and El Refugio (Georgia) also offer resources to families visiting detainees and newly-released detainees trying to return to their families.
  • Legal Representation: Because the immigration system is separate from the criminal prosecution system, there is no legal representation requirement and many immigrants go through the process without a lawyer. Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represents all the immigrant children in the state’s foster care program. About two-thirds of their current caseload are family separation cases. Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project represents refugees with imminent risk of deportation and offers assistance in asylum cases. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project provides legal services in the Pacific Northwest. After receiving more than $20 million through the largest Facebook viral fundraiser, RAICES (Texas) is expanding its legal support and helping parents get in contact with separated children; they’ve offered more information about how they’ll use this massive donation.


  • Host a Movie Night: Find Frontline’s Lost in Detention (2011) or Immigration Battle (2015) free online. Or, watch a documentary like The Other side of Immigration (2009) about why so many Mexican immigrants come to the US. For a documentary about the DREAMers, like Don’t Tell Anyone (2015)or New American Girls (20140. If it’s easier to watch something fictional, try the drama/romance The Visitor (2007) that offers a powerful glimpse into the lives of undocumented immigrants.
  • Take a Spanish Class: whether you’re interested in volunteering with detainees, supporting legal action, or shifting your cultural lens, learning a foreign language will strengthen your ability to respond to these issues. Look for classes at your local rec center or community college. Some places  also offer Arabic, Chinese, or other popular (and needed!) spoken languages in the U.S.
  • Expand your Social Media Network: Follow an organization like Casa de Paz or El Refugio on Facebook to see the stories of undocumented immigrants these organizations are helping every day.  RAICES, of the runaway fundraising campaign, is on Instagram. Or follow undocumented and formerly undocumented activists @AskAngy, @prernaplal, @joseiswriting on Twitter.
  • Go On a Learning Delegation: On-the-ground learning delegations have a direct economic impact and amplify the voices of those most affected by the issues. MCC organizes small group learning tours to both sides of the Arizona/Mexico border, to Guatemala, and to Honduras to learn about U.S. policy from those directly affected. The next delegation Arizona-Mexico tour, which will meet with activists, Border Patrol in the U.S., and civic leaders in Mexico, is October 3-8 and still has spaces available. Witness for Peace leads similar delegations all over Latin America focused on specific aspects of U.S.-Latin America relations.
  • Find a Guest Speaker. Contact any of the organizations above that are active in your area and see if there is someone who can speak about immigration issues at your group. Some colleges have scholarship programs for undocumented youth and may be able to send staff or students to speak to churches.

Whatever you choose, remember: there’s no such thing as perfect activism. Action is always better than inaction, even if it’s small action. Activism is by definition a hodgepodge-y, improvised art in pursuit of a better reality. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Joel Kauffmann’s comic:

Pontius What Can one do

So take a breath, and keep on going.


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